The other day I read an interview where a musician was asked the question “do you make music to process or to search?” The musician, Sasu Ripatti—also known as Vladislav Delay—answered the question by saying he uses his music more to process:
“…as a way for me to deal with everything that’s going on, good and bad… There’s a real load of emotion, but also all kinds of stuff that it’s necessary to get out.”–Vladislav Delay, musician
The interviewer, Ruth Saxelby, agreed and expanded on the idea:
“Yes. It’s a release of energy. Music and literature and all creative forms are an attempt to be in dialogue with life, to wrestle with this thing of being alive. That’s not something that we can carry around with us the whole time. You need to let some of it out.”–Ruth Saxelby, writer
I definitely relate to that and I use drawing to process and release my emotions too. But thinking about the original question more made me realize that I actually like to do both—process and search—and that perhaps when we feel creatively blocked, it’s because we’re in the wrong creative mode for that moment.
Creating with the Seasons
For me, I need these two modes to alternate. Some artists choose to alternate and change how they work with the seasons. They create bursts of intense work in the Spring, mimicking the life blooming around us, and then slip into more of a creative incubation period in the Winter, mimicking the hibernation of life.
I like the idea of this creative rotation, and I thought the concept could work well with these two creative modes of Process and Search as well.
For the last 5 months, I’ve been mainly in Process Mode, exploring and dealing with life as a new mom. Drawing has been quite helpful in helping me be observant and aware of everything that’s happening and how I’m feeling. But lately, I’ve been having an itch for something different.
Sometimes that itch can be frustrating. It can feel, at first, like creative block, or dissatisfaction, or boredom. It can often lead to a drought of artwork, or a period of creation where what we make just doesn’t feel right. But I think it may actually be a sign that we need to alternate our creative mode.
I still want to draw to process my life as a parent and record the adorable/hilarious/frustrating things Butterbean does. But there’s something else tugging on my sleeve… a nagging sensation that I’m looking for something.
I think I’m itching for the Search Mode. I was fully enveloped in Search Mode when I created my picture book, We Are Fungi. Mushrooms had sparked my curiosity and I dove in, reading, exploring, and drawing every fungi-related thing I could get my hands on. I was obsessed and I was searching for answers.
What are fungi? What are they like? If they could talk, what would they say? How do they eat? Why are they so mysterious? Why am I so drawn to them?
As I searched for these answers, my project came together. I created doodles, a story, characters, and an entire book fueled by this search. It was a slow process that ended up taking about 2 years, but it was intensely rewarding.
Alternating Creative Modes
Ever since I completed the book, I’ve been mainly in Process Mode. A lot has happen in my personal life over these past 2 years (hashtag vague), and I needed my art to help me acknowledge, understand, and get through it all.
But now, things are kind of settling down. Life is still more chaotic than it was pre-baby, but as far as my art-brain is concerned, it’s ready to ramp up and buckle down. I’m ready for my next obsession, I’m ready to create my next book—I’m ready to Search.
Unfortunately, my work-plate is quite full until November. I won’t really be able to dig in to a big self-directed project until then. But knowing that I’ll be able to switch modes later this year is helpful to remind myself when these itches creep up on me. It enables me to realize I’m not in a creative block, it’s actually quite the opposite. I’m merely ready for something big.
Ideally, we’d all be able to follow whatever creative urges we have as soon as they appear. But realistically, that’s not always possible. Sometimes we have responsibilities and prior commitments that have to be met first, before we can switch modes.
So for now, I’m reminding myself that I’m lucky to have the problem of a full-work load. I’m happy to be working on the things I’m working on now. I’ll continue processing, and I’ll record these itches and urges as they happen, knowing that I’ll be able to dig into them soon.
And then, when winter is on it’s way, I’ll be able to switch. I’ll explore my curiosity, I’ll incubate my ideas, and I’ll search. I’ll search for my next book.